Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Reply to a Reply

My "Neo-Conmen and Retro-Futurists" post didn't excite much in the way of comment hereabouts, but did provoke a wrongheaded but nicely witty response over on the Cyborg Democracy blog, and so I wanted to reproduce that reply and my own reply to it here, as a kind of alternate MundiMoot. Dig.

"Carl" writes:

In a spasm of political apoplexy, Dale Carrico writes:

There's a difference between a principled embrace of "mainstream" moderation and pluralism (obviously indispensable to any democratic technoprogressivism) and an accommodation of what counts as "mainstream" in this unspeakably scary and dangerous moment in which we are living.

Apparently the actual mainstream has vanished overnight, leaving in place a imposter mainstream with motives we can assume are dark (I think I read about something like this happening in a Greg Bear novel). Clearly the American experiment with democracy has failed if such a principled advocate of democratic processes as Dale has lost all faith in the soundness of the system's results.

From there, Dale goes on to offer us his best Clint Eastwood impersonation:

Given my ongoing troubled but ultimately enjoyable and productive association with so many who identify as transhumanists, it makes sense to insist as clearly as I can that in this historical moment no one is an ally of mine, or a fellow collaborator in any future I am working to build, who is not actively opposed to and resisting the Bush Administration and the institutional and ideological order supporting that Administration.

All those Bush-supporting transhumanist power brokers nationwide must be shaking in their cowboy boots right now. Does this mean you won't share the next good stash of psychotropic nootropics that you get your hands on? I know politics is hell, but we should at least try to remain civilized.

Finally, in a moment of lunatic zeal that would make Ann Coulter blush, Dale warns us of the bloodshed to come:

And as for the storm that is coming, driven mostly for now by radical biotechnologies (including neurotechnologies): unless these market and theocratic fundamentalists are put in their place I honestly fear that developments which could emancipate the world will instead bring unspeakable tyranny and apocalypse.

[W]hich of course raises far more questions than it answers. Are we talking about the "cats and dogs living together" apocalypse, or something more sinister like the release of neocon nanobot brain implants into the drinking water? Or are you referring to the well publicized plans to upload Bush's consciousness into a Jupiter-sized superintelligence which will rule over the world for centuries with its army of immortal Karl Rove cyborgs? Please clarify.

My sincere thanks to you Dale for the thought provoking comments. And while we're on the subject, I have bit of advice for you which I'll give in the form of a celebrity impersonation of my own: "Sell crazy somewhere else, we're all stocked up here."

And here, then, is my own reply:

Some of us settle into "The New Normal" more comfortably than others, I see....

Reader Carl has kindly proposed that the anger and fear on parade in this last li'l post of mine, inspired by the antics of the Bush Administration and their supporters, amounts to "apoplexy," "lunatic zeal," and "selling crazy."

He asks that I "clarify" what on earth might lead "a principled advocate of democratic processes" such as myself to such shrill extremity as to call crimes crimes, liars liars, thieves thieves, thugs thugs, and dangers dangers (I'm paraphrasing).

Honestly, honey, you've got to be kidding me.

I'm talking about warmongering Straussian snakes and rapture-right fundies blowing their wads across the globe and lying lying lying while corpses and debts are ballooning, I'm talking about Grover Norquist libertopians dismantling the safety net, siphoning cash to their bazillionair bomb-building friends, and dreaming of drowning good government in a bathtub, I'm talking about homophobes (including closet-case rentboys and the values-voters who love them) and gun-loving capital-punishment loving pollution loving champions of a so-called "culture of life" eagerly dismantling civil liberties before our eyes.

I know it seems like a comic book, I know it seems like it can't possibly be real, but there it is, as plain as day and dark as the darkest night.

Anyhow, if I may nudge this discussion back to the developmental tech politics that draw us together here in fact, it is my view that we need incomparably more accountable democratic institutions, a far more robust and entrenched rights culture, radically wider welfare entitlements, and global safety regulation, impact-assessment, and inspection regimes to have the slightest hope of survival through the developmental upheavals to come.

In every way the Bush Administration seems to me to be taking things surreally quickly and devastatingly in the wrong direction.

And, if I may say so, comparing me to Ann Coulter makes little sense at all, except I will grant that our Adam's apples exhibit, in certain lights, a superficial similarity.


Matt Arnold said...

by some coincidence, the same day that my RSS feed delivered "Neo-Conmen and Retro-Futurists" was the day I chanced upon the book "Cyberselfish, a Critical Look at the Terribly Libertarian Culture of High-Tech" by Paulina Borsook. Together, these left a powerful impression that left-liberals have got the worst timing ever. Why-oh-why choose the period of history of the Bush administration, of all times, to hate and reject other opponents of the Republican Party? Disagree all you like, but what's gained by telling them you have no part with them? Do you feel that allies are unnecessary on social issues, civil rights and peace just because they don't agree on wealth re-distribution? Pick your battles! Considering how terrified I am about Bush's anti-science, homophobia and warmongering, you or Michael Moore attacking me as if I'm on Their Side for not being a Socialist is as out-of-touch as a doctor offering advice on cholesterol to a guy who wants urgent treatment for a knife wound. Neo-cons wouldn't know a libertarian from a hole in the ground. Tech-progressive libertarians (or call us libertopians, I don't mind) are part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Dale Carrico said...

Libertarian ideology -- what you would probably call a perversion of "true" libertarian ideology, in whatever construal of it you affirm yourself -- drives some of the most reckless and devastating policies of the Bush Administration, both foreign (check out Naomi Klein's "Iraq Year Zero") and domestic (ever heard of "starve the beast"?).

As it happens, my sense of the political terrain that confronts technoprogressives and democrats generally (liberal, partisan, radical, reform, social alike) is complex enough to accommodate far more than just two sides.

As I said in the initial post, it is very specifically the support of Bush policies that I find utterly unacceptable in this particular historical moment.

You tell me you're not on "their" side and then throw out a little Michael Moore bashing and Red-baiting like a dutiful Dittohead. Please. I've clicked on your link and looked at some of your stuff. You can be better than this.

It's true that I have many strong critiques of libertarianism (in both the market and social guises prevalent among technophiles), but that doesn't preclude friendships or strategic alliances with libertarian-types, for my part.

Technophilia is a strange attractor for advocates of libertarian politics (for some of the reasons check out my short essaylet, "Trouble in Libertopia") that are, in my view, for the most part hopelessly facile, reductive, provincial, complacent, and often hostile to the unique demands of politics for interminable struggle, ineliminable vulnerability, eternal vigilance. That's why I am especially hard on my liber-techian readers.

Premember, progress is more than a pile of gadgets getting higher, it is a matter of more justice, more freedom, more rights. Freedom is an argument, a dance, an orgy -- not a garbage dump.

Progress is not a force that will arise spontaneously, it will only emerge from collaboration and social struggle.

Technological development is a churn of powers that breaks the crust of convention, provides occasion for realignments of power, provides opportunities for emancipation -- even as it empowers elites, exacerbates injustice, and intensifies techniques of oppression. Like it or not, it is a space of social struggle.

As for Paulina Borsook's book (with which I have a few problems, as it happens, especially her discussion of so-called Nerverts), I think it is full of insights and funny formulations, and is an especially evocative portrait of an era that is actually pretty much behind us already. Nevertheless, I recommend it highly.